Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Just Let It Be

Should we measure a child's artistic experiences with data? I don't think so. Some experiences should not be judged- they should just be what they are. There is a personal freedom to experiencing the arts, and that should not be tamed by someone else's judgment.

Underwater scenes by 7th grade students. I just let them go with their own ideas.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

ASD School Board Member Scott Armstrong Bashes Teachers

Scott Armstrong
 I attended a very disturbing ASD school board meeting on January 24th. It is now crystal clear to me that the majority of our school board, and our superintendent Dr. Mayo, do not appear to be willing to fight for the funding needed to adequately serve the children in our district. These board members seem ineffective, and offer no ideas. I don't even think these people have any understanding of what teachers and students deal with on a daily basis in over crowded classrooms. They don't seem to understand education issues, or how poverty impacts learning. 

We now face the possibility of more teacher furloughs, while our teaching staff is already bare bones due to last years massive furloughs and cuts. And at this critical time, the majority of board members are not focusing on doing what is in the best interest of students. Dr. Mayo has no ideas, and wants to continue with a failed business model approach, working within a failed system, hoping that Governor Corbett sends us some table scraps. He wants a "business climate" in our schools, and is hopeful that implementing a new school uniform policy will help to reinforce his thinking. I don't mind uniforms, but we don't need a business climate. We need a nurturing, safe, learning environment where all children are given opportunities to discover their talents and succeed. We don't need test prep, narrowed curriculum, and data driven instruction. We don't need more rigorous standards. A school is not a business. Businesses are about profit, schools are about students. These are our children, they are not products. Stop dehumanizing education. 

Thank you to ASD teacher Deb Brobst, for speaking up for teachers and students, and board member Ce-Ce Gerlach, who spoke up and did not approve  Mayo's plans to conduct a study to determine "the minimum" number of teachers needed to serve our students. Board member Joanne Jackson was absent from the meeting, but has informed me that she voted against the plan too. Thank you Jo Jackson! ASD serves needy children growing up in poverty, many are homeless, many have special needs. Common sense will tell you that we need much more than the minimum here in Allentown. Mean spirited board member Scott Armstrong told teachers to "look in the mirror" because you are to blame. He is a disgrace, with a narrow right wing political agenda that has nothing to do with improving our schools.

A friend of mine, a committed parent volunteer who attended the meeting with me, wrote the following letter to ASD School Board President Robert Smith.

Dear Mr. Smith:

As a parent of a fourth grader at Muhlenberg, I attended last night's board meeting due to grave concerns about the direction and future of the district.  It would be an understatement to say that my concerns were in no way alleviated by the discussions and votes conducted in the meeting.

As the parent of a special needs student, who is eternally grateful for the expertise, experience, commitment and compassion consistently demonstrated by my son's teachers throughout his school career, I was particularly appalled at the tone, attitude, statements and implications displayed by Scott Armstrong at last night's meeting.  It occurred to me that, if one has such disdain and disrespect for teachers -- the people who do the actual work of a school district -- then perhaps one should not serve on the school board.  I also feel that Mr. Armstrong's statements and implications were inflammatory and misleading to the public audience at the meeting.  Even I, with a quite rudimentary understanding of the pension situation, know that to blame teachers and their compensation, including pensions, for our ongoing budgetary crisis is simplistic and unfair, not to mention extremely divisive and unproductive.  I have to assume that Mr. Armstrong knows that as well, as does the rest of the board.  

I am willing to consider that, perhaps, Mr. Armstrong was having a bad night.  I can also certainly imagine that there is enormous history and significant dynamics between teachers, administration, and the board, which has to create a great deal of frustration at times.  I can even consider that Mr. Armstrong is a truly good person who is doing an incredibly difficult job.  However, Mr. Armstrong should understand that not everyone is as charitable as I, with great effort, am trying to be.  He runs a serious risk of simply appearing unprofessional, arrogant, and as having a personal axe to grind that has nothing to do with the needs and best interests of our students.  At this critical time in our district, we should be completely focused on advocating for, and protecting the educational rights of our kids.  This requires collaboration among teachers, students, parents, administration, board, and community -- now.  We do not have the luxury of petty arguments, blaming, and grandstanding.  I have directed this correspondence to you, as the President of the board, because you are, of course, a key leader in this effort.  

Thank you very much for your service to the district, and your consideration of my feedback.

Lisa Figueroa